The Single Most Important Skill in Learning to Sell

I'll share with you one of the single most important skills and lessons about selling. It's something my sales mentor taught me many years ago.

My mentor was quite the character. She was this Pakistani woman who wore skin tight leather pants to work every day while selling to the Chief Information Officers of the Fortune 500 -- hardly the stereotypical look of a (male or female) corporate salesperson.

She would work 365 days to land ONE single order from a Fortune 500 company. That order would be for $23 million (an excellent salesperson in that industry sells $2 million per year). Her commission check for that order would be $1 million.

THAT is big ticket selling.

At the time I met her, I had been out of McKinsey and in industry for a few years. I was incredibly good at selling my ideas internally and had a lot of respect.

My mentor was the first person to sell me on the idea that I already knew how to sell.

She explained there's not much difference between selling an idea or recommendation versus selling a product or service.

Then she proceeded to explain to me one of the most important skills and lessons in all of sales.

One of the most important skills in sales is NOT to be a good talker, but rather to be a good listener.

Using your listening skills, you want to listen for something extremely specific when looking to land a mega deal. (This is one of the biggest lessons in sales.)

She said, "You want to listen for other people's PROBLEMS."

Very simply put...


She would spend her days roaming the halls of her prospective clients - all Fortune 500 companies.

She would listen for people's complaints. When she found someone with a problem, especially a big, nasty, incredibly expensive problem, she would get all excited.

People with enormous-sized problems are often willing to spend big money to solve them. Conversely, people with tiny problems often aren't willing to spend anything at all to solve those problems.

I always remembered this.

It seemed extremely counter-intuitive to me.

I had always assumed a good salesperson would be a good talker.

While that's true, there's another aspect to sales I never really considered...

How does a good salesperson know WHAT to say?

THAT comes from being a good LISTENER.

Sales is very simple. You listen to understand the other person's problem as they see it. You figure out if your product or service can legitimately solve their problem.

If it can not, you walk away.

If it can, you simply "connect the dots" and explain HOW your product or service solves their problem.

That's it.

That's the essence of sales.

Now there are more advanced sales approaches, but the core essence of sales is very simple.

If you'd like to receive more articles on how to develop your sales skills, just complete the form below.

Please Notify Me of Articles and Resources on
"How to Sell Your Ideas"

First Name *
Last Name *
Email *

This form collects your name and email so that we can add you to our interest list for How to Sell. Check out our privacy policy for details on how we protect and manage your submitted data.

3 comments… add one
  • Merry Nov 8, 2018, 10:11 am

    I do the same for a living, selling high-value enterprise software > 100 Million deals. Here is one important information you completely missed. You should be good at listening, but how do you get information out of them, if they don’t talk. You need to be very good in asking the right trigger questions to get them to talk to you freely. Secondly, I find things this to be fluff – “She would spend her days roaming the halls of her prospective clients – all Fortune 500 companies”. Really! no company lets any outsider roam their halls freely trying to sell something, especially high-value deals. You must be focused and targeted to get meetings with the right decision makers.

    • Victor Cheng Nov 23, 2018, 2:15 pm

      Hi Merry,

      You’re absolutely right about being a good listener. I neglected to mention that explicitly. One way to get people to talk to be a credible authority figure and expert in your field. People don’t volunteer information to strangers. They tell their doctors all kinds of stuff they wouldn’t tell others. It is good to be perceived as a “doctor” of sorts.

      With respect to my overly casually phrased comment about roaming the halls of prospective clients, they do allow you access if you’re they’re to help them solve major problems. This is especially true if you have an active on-going engagement and have regular meetings with key executives.


  • Ursula Mannix Aug 20, 2015, 8:34 am

    The skill of listening great content. Thank you!

Leave a Comment